Drive through Brooklyn, through the neighborhoods and by the families and past the houses and churches until you’ve almost run out of real estate, until you nearly reach the boardwalk that has been famous for a thousand years. Park in the shadow of the long disused parachute jump, refugee from the first New York World’s Fair, that hoisted patrons into the sky, only to drop them thrillingly to safety. Now here, now a symbol of something that I am frankly incapable of decoding.
Then walk east, towards the stadium doors, passing the plaques honoring the hundreds of the finest and the bravest lost on that sunny day nearly 16 years ago, past those paying their respects to them. Go inside and wander the halls – which smell curiously to me of the swimming pools of my youth but that’s probably just me – and climb the stairs amidst the fans and other strangers to emerge finally in the sunlight and beach breezes of MCU Park, the home of the New York Cosmos.
Coney Island Baby: New York Cosmos Draw North Carolina
Different indeed from the last Cosmos game I saw at the lumberman’s college, for NYCFC’s first Open Cup match against these very Cosmos. Different too from the first Cosmos game I ever saw, at the now long gone Giants stadium, where a pantheon of the world’s greatest players dismantled my hero, the pride of English Goaltending.
But this is neither an Open Cup match featuring City Football Group’s Bronx representatives, nor an exercise with that star-studded lineup from my youth. For the Cosmos are out of the Cup and Giorgio Chinaglia is dead (though you can buy his jersey in the stadium store), Pele is in the front office (sort of), and the Kaiser is currently under investigation.
Instead, I am here to watch an NASL league match. To watch the New York Cosmos take on North Carolina FC, in their second home game in four days, their third match in a week, and their 11th of the Spring season.
From here you can see the lower bay of Manhattan as it opens out towards the Atlantic Ocean, in much the same way that you see the Commodore Barry Bridge spanning the Delaware when you’re watching a Philadelphia Union home game. From here you can almost see where Stephon Marbury grew up, where Woody Guthrie lived, where Larry David and Vince Lombardi were kids (though not together). From here you can see the kids from PS 261 singing the Star Spangled Banner, and their parents in the stands cheering them on, and the Turkish band Yeni Turku playing some sort of rock and roll near home plate. Yes, home plate. Because once again I am watching soccer in a baseball stadium. Some things never change.
The match begins
I am reminded of what Michael Stephens and the Cosmos own Ryan Richter said about NASL and USL play on Bobby Warshaw’s podcast “The Play” – that there is no drop-off in intensity of play from one league to the next. And it’s true. No one is dogging it, at least, not any more than you would see in any other league around the world.
Minutes in and the Cosmos are dominating. They’re splitting the defense on the wing, again and again, when suddenly, in the seventh minute, Irvin Herrera slots in a lovely shot to the far corner. But then, as invariably happens in this beautiful game, North Carolina come right back, scoring off of a corner kick clearance, and we’re knotted at one. Still, however, the Cosmos dominate. North Carolina are giving Cosmos forward Eugene Starikov free reign and he’s taking advantage of it. If they could only finish they’d be up by a touchdown.
And then they pay for it, as teams always do, with a direct kick from the top of the D by North Carolina’s Lance Laing. A rocket that Cosmos goalie Jimmy Maurer has no chance on. And then the halftime whistle sounds and the Cosmos head to the lockers down a goal.
The second half
You can tell that the team just played on Wednesday. At best they’re counter-punching now, looking for North Carolina to make a mistake. They’re showing none of the domination that marked the first half. But as the clock begins to wind down, Khalif Alhassan is subbed on and instantly makes his presence felt. He’s causing trouble for North Carolina’s back line. He’s finding open players. He’s creating space. The Cosmos staff hand out “Man of the Match” ballots, and as crazy it sounds, for a guy who’s played only a handful of minutes today, he’d be my pick.
And then he scores and he makes my vote easy. And then the whistle sounds and the game is over and the New York Cosmos draw North Carolina FC.
The city is a funny place
Every team has a personality. It may be good, it may be bad. It may not be interesting, it may not be the one they want, it may not be of their own choosing. But it exists. Usually it in some way reflects the personality of the city it represents. But the thing about New York is that, to paraphrase the old Brooklynite himself, it contains multitudes. Teams here really don’t represent the whole city. They represent some aspect of it. NYCFC represents one. The Red Bulls another. And the Cosmos another.
And that’s not only fine, it’s preferred. It’s actually more authentic. More authentic to this city we call home. As authentic as the roller coaster the Cosmos play in the shadow of. As the songs found in Woody’s attic down the street. And as the legacy of soccer in America in the 1970s.
Photo credit: New York Cosmos Communications